Many international students may have been a significant blow this week, as Federal Treasurer Jim Chalmers confirmed a return to a cap on the maximum hours student visa holders can work.
What are the changes?
The changes will revert to a similar system as pre-COVID times. This means from 1 July 2023, the number of hours student visa holders can work in a fortnight will be restricted to 48 hours. During the pandemic, these restrictions were lifted.
Students working in the aged-care sector will be exempt from the changes, but only until the end of the year.
Why is the work hour cap being changed?
The reintroduction of the restrictions have been on the table for some time, after being announced earlier this year. Many policy changes from the COVID era have disappeared recently, like the increase to Medicare-subsidised mental health care which was reinstated to pre-COVID access arrangements at the start of this year.
Speaking to the SBS, a spokesperson for the Department of Home Affairs said, “the Government considers 48 hours a fortnight as an appropriate balance between work and study, acknowledging that study is the primary purpose of the Student visa.”
“[As] part of the requirements for a student visa, students must declare that they have enough money to support their stay in Australia, including the cost of living, the course and travel expenses.”
“This modest increase [of eight hours a fortnight, from the pre-COVID work-hour cap] will help students to gain valuable work experience and contribute to Australia’s workforce needs while they study,” the spokesperson said.
This comes amidst a wider initiative by the government to reform migration and skilled work schemes. Speaking to the National Press Club last month, Minister for Home Affairs Clare O’Neill said the student visa system had been “exploited”, and needed broad reform to protect both migrant workers and the sectors that rely upon them.
“We have allowed low-wage migration programs to operate in the shadows, for example, through exploitation of our international student visa system.
“Instead of pretending that some students are here to study when they are actually here to work, we need to look to create proper, capped, safe, tripartite pathways for workers in key sectors, such as care.”
What will the impact be on international students?
Many international students, including those at our university, are struggling financially and are forced to rely on services like the QUT Student Guild Foodbank to survive. They make up the majority of students accessing the Foodbank, which has struggled to meet demand due to the influx of students in need. This week, the Foodbank closed after operating for only one day due to high demand causing critically low stock, despite an increase in recent donations.
International students already do not qualify for the any of the government benefits that other students often rely on during their studies, like Youth Allowance. They make up approximately 14% of QUT students.
The Support Network for International Students (SNIS) has called on the government to ‘Scrap the Cap’, stating that changes will “…re-expose students to the dangers of unfair working conditions, which are hard to monitor, such as wage theft and [under-the-table payment].”
SNIS also reiterated that international students are facing the same cost of living pressures as domestic students, without government benefits, and while paying “triple the course fees”.
One QUT international student told Glass, “International students are left out of the conversation when it comes to financial struggles, and it should be addressed. There’s uncertainty about work and living situation. Can we find a job related to our degrees? How will migration policies affect us? Are there opportunities to stay long term? [The work-hour cap] doesn’t affect me at the moment, but I know several people who will find it difficult covering some expenses if they’re not able to work more hours or for more than one job.”
QUT Student Guild International Officer, Moin Rahman, told Glass that while the changes mean some immediate pain for international students, it’s not all bad news:
“With this new budget, I believe we are ushering in better-targeted migration system that is focussed on skills and will look to overcome skill shortages, largely being overlooked for years.
“I believe a key part of its effectiveness comes from the continual existence of current and future international students. In an increasingly dynamic market that demands various skillset, international students and their qualifications sit at the forefront of being able to contribute toward it. However, in the recent, past their existence has often been sidelined with international cohort often grappling with rigorous visa condition changes. One such is the international students work entitlements, which have changed multiple times in recent history including in the recent budget.
“During the pandemic, this cap was relaxed, which brought dual benefits to both students and businesses. With uncapped work hours, international students were able to save to counteract the increasing housing/rental accommodation crisis.
“However, with the reinstatement as part of the re-scoping of better-targeted migration system, I believe it will bring some immediate backlash for the international student community as they continue to combat various other challenges. From a positive perspective, amongst the stacked-up odds, I would want to believe that capped hours might inadvertently encourage more students to strive to do better in their studies and complete them on time.”
The long-term consequences of the visa changes remain to be seen.
If you would like to access or support the Guild’s Foodbank by making a donation, you can find out more information here.